Interesting article about Islam

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Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message  By Sean Tudor on Friday, October 12, 2001 - 12:54 am:


Not even Islam's disdain for modernity will halt progress

Despite the wishes of some, the liberal-democratic system will continue to dominate world politics, writes Francis Fukuyama.

A stream of commentators have been asserting that the tragedy of September 11 proves I was utterly wrong to have said, more than a decade ago, that we had reached the end of history.

But the way in which I used the word history was different: it referred to the progress over the centuries towards modernity, characterised by institutions such as democracy and capitalism.

My observation, made in 1989 on the eve of the collapse of communism, was that this evolutionary process did seem to be bringing ever larger parts of the world towards modernity. And if we looked beyond liberal democracy and markets, there was nothing else towards which we could expect to evolve - hence the end of history.

While there were retrograde areas that resisted that process, it was hard to find a viable alternative civilisation that people actually wanted to live in after the discrediting of socialism, monarchy, fascism and other types of authoritarianism.

This view has been challenged by many people, and perhaps most articulately by the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington. He argued that rather than progressing towards a single global system, the world remained mired in a "clash of civilisations" in which six or seven major cultural groups would coexist without converging and constitute the new fracture lines of global conflict.

Since the successful attack on the centre of global capitalism was evidently perpetrated by Islamic extremists unhappy with the very existence of Western civilisation, observers have been handicapping the Huntington "clash" view over my own "end of history" hypothesis.

I believe that in the end I remain right: modernity is a very powerful freight train that will not be derailed by recent events, however painful. Democracy and free markets will continue to expand as the dominant organising principles for much of the world.

The central question raised by Huntington is whether institutions of modernity will work only in the West, or whether there is something broader in their appeal that will allow them to make headway elsewhere. I believe there is. The proof lies in the progress that democracy and free markets have made in regions such as East Asia, Latin America, orthodox Europe, South Asia and even Africa. Proof lies also in the millions of developing world immigrants who vote with their feet every year to live in Western societies.

But there does seem to be something about Islam, or at least the fundamentalist versions of Islam, that makes Muslim societies particularly resistant to modernity. Of all contemporary cultural systems, the Islamic world has the fewest democracies (Turkey alone qualifies) and contains no countries that have made the transition to developed nation status in the manner of South Korea or Singapore.

Islam is the only cultural system that seems regularly to produce people such as Osama bin Laden or the Taliban who reject modernity lock, stock and barrel.

This raises the question of how representative such people are of the larger Muslim community, and whether this rejection is somehow inherent in Islam.

Politicians east and west have been saying that those sympathetic with the terrorists are a "tiny minority" of Muslims. It is important to say this to prevent all Muslims from becoming targets. But hatred of America and what it stands for are clearly much more widespread, extending from the middle classes in countries such as Egypt to immigrants in the West.

This broad dislike seems to represent something much deeper than mere opposition to American policies, such as support for Israel or the Iraq embargo, encompassing a hatred of the underlying society.

But anti-American hatred does not translate into a viable political program for Muslim societies to follow.

We remain at the end of history because there is only one system that will continue to dominate world politics, that of the liberal-democratic West. The struggle we face is not the clash of several distinct and equal cultures fighting among one another like the great powers of 19th-century Europe. The clash consists of a series of rearguard actions from societies whose traditional existence is threatened by modernisation. The strength of the backlash reflects the severity of this threat. But time is on the side of modernity, and I see no lack of US will to prevail.

Francis Fukuyama is the author of The End of History and the Last Man.

The Wall Street Journal

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